OPINION: Putting on my running shoes for Council District 9 elections

By Martha Sanchez

It is election time and most people are ready to elect a new representative for the poorest council district of Los Angeles; someone who can fix five powerful regulatory tools: infrastructure, industry, immigration, institutions and identity policies.

And this time the election is not about skin color, it is about universal issues. At least this is what we heard from candidates at the first CD9 Candidate Forum held Saturday, February 16th at Maya Angelou Community High School.

This election is about finding a meaningful leader eager to reduce crime, police abuse and political corruption, infrastructural disinvestment, environmental contamination, ethnic tensions, inadequate education, poverty, job opportunities, homelessness, redevelopment plans and discriminatory ordinances that only benefit certain ethnic groups.

And I’m absolutely right when I say the “poorest district of Los Angeles,” even when we have so many important and valuable assets such as the Augustus Hawkins Natural Park, the Jazz Corridor, the California African American Museum, the Green Meadows Recreational Center, the Mercado La Paloma, a great number of new and well equipped school buildings, the Los Angeles Trade Tech College, great transportation lines like the MTA blue line, Exposition line, well-preserved mansions, historical buildings and landmarks, such as the AAA building and the St Vincent Catholic Church along Figueroa corridor.

Did I miss something? Oh yes, L.A Live, L.A Convention Center, the California Science Center, IMAX Theater, L.A. Memorial Coliseum, Exposition Park, Mary Mount University, the University of Southern California, the newest Lorenzo Housing Project, the Orthopeadic Hospital, available warehouses, great investment opportunities, shipper land, ship labor and why not… its people.

Oh yes, we are the least and the last in almost all candidates’ bucket lists, but we are important too. Let’s not forget that “we are living in a neighborhood steeped in culture and history.” That’s why they need our votes!

As a longtime resident, this is the first time that I see a significant number of young and adult volunteers recruited by current political candidates walking down the streets talking to constituents, attracting young voters and reaching out to skeptical residents, encouraging them to participate in the upcoming election on March 5th.

I’m so fascinated with former and new politicians’ campaigns since ten years ago when I first became an activist in my community. Monica Garcia—my school board representative—who is fighting to keep her seat as well, told me: “Martha we can’t do anything for your community because your people don’t vote, and we don’t want to upset the voters.”

That was a slap on my face, but it didn’t prevent me from reaching my goal to improve my community. Now, the same people that were discouraged by politicians are being reached out to and considered important.

Observing all those campaign volunteers knocking on my neighbors’ doors makes me feel proud and inspired. It seems that we have finally changed the equation. We learned our rights and acquired some political awareness to turn things around. But we still need something equally important: we need jobs, education and economic opportunities. In order to get that, we need to have an honest and committed representative in City Hall.

For those who couldn’t attend the forum I would like to share some personal remarks. First and most importantly, this community has demonstrated that Black and Latino leaders can and want to work together. We had a great turnout and the event organizers deserve to be acknowledged for that. Second, we all wanted to know from all candidates what their connection with CD9 was and what they have done for us in their past. Third, I believe most people just started to understand that we don’t need a candidate that looks like us; we need someone that thinks and acts like us!

Thus, no matter how hard they tried to connect with us by mentioning their Mexican, Salvadoran, African-American, blue, white, red or purple affiliation, it was clear to them that we didn’t want big corporations dictating our lives. We want equitable funding for working class people, better public services and high quality infrastructure, and more power in decision-making process for new developments, housing projects and job opportunities. They might look like us, but if their campaigns are funded by banks, corporations and the so called “philanthropic big brother,” then we don’t want them to represent us.

Although some stressed the fact that since Latino residents are the great majority in CD9, a Latino representative could better suit this community. If it were the case, why is Gil Cedillo, a Mexican-American, running for office in the greatest Central-American district, and why are [Ron] Gochez and [Ana] Cubas, both of Salvadoran descent, persuading Mexican and Black residents to vote for them? Why do Curren Price Jr., David Roberts, and Mike Davis — none of them Mexican-American — think that they could represent CD9 residents better; they should be running for CD8 instead.

Even more outrageous is to hear people concerned with keeping the “black man” in power. This has nothing to do with “black and brown” tensions in South L.A. and it is not about skin color, right? With all due respect, they should know that it was Gilbert Lindsay, a black council member who almost destroyed the pride and character of this former black community. They should go and ask [Eighth District Councilman] Bernard Parks’ constituents how they feel about him too. I believe they feel almost like us when someone mentions Antonio Villaraigosa, Monica Garcia, or Marco Rubio.

My intention is not to divide but to raise awareness that skin color should not be the standard. Those comments really disappoint me in a similar way that others felt discouraged when Cubas and Gochez expressed few remarks in Spanish, though most people — like me — preferred to vocalize issues around education, job training and gentrification. Let’s be honest, a community like mine, holding so many amenities, cultural richness and leisure opportunities is a hidden treasure, a main target of developers and gentrification is already taking place. The rich want our land and they are willing to invest in a physically and mentally disconnected “token” to make it faster.

Please don’t get me wrong, we don’t need a “hometown candidate” that has never been outside of this community and can’t think outside of the box. I don’t believe in a candidate that adjusts his thoughts and manners to please different audiences. How can I trust in a candidate that is taking credit from somebody else’s work to enhance his efforts and commitment, a candidate that was paid to perform some specific tasks under somebody else’s administration, and later feel proud and confident to say “I did it” in a public forum.

Why do we have to use our gender, race, and our humble background to make the statement that we are better. I know rich people that are humble, peaceful and that really care about the poor. I also know poor people who, once they got in a position of power, turned around and became unconscious dictators. I know a lot of female politicians holding important positions of power supporting male agendas and constantly voting against female rights.

I do really want to see change, but change from the grassroots level to the glass ceiling. As a woman, I doubt other women that are successful based on male agendas. As an immigrant, I feel uncertainty around the police department. As minority, I distrust blue eyes. As an educated person, I know how politicians have used and abused this community. As a mother and wife, I need better opportunities for my husband and my kids that Wal-Mart has never provided.

As an activist, I admire Cesar Chavez and Dr. [Martin Luther] King, but what I learned from them is that they never left people behind to run for office and they died fighting for their cause. We don’t need another hero. But if we really want to stop our politicians from being accountable to corporations, then we need to invest in them and work on their campaigns, so they will only be accountable to us… their real constituents. Then, let’s put on our running shoes to walk precincts and make this happen.

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